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The F1 genius who can turn Hamilton into a GP-winning machine for Ferrari

This day had been coming. The incremental gains made over recent grands prix were pointing, Mercedes thought, to a legitimate challenge in Hungary next week or the following race in Spa. Trust Lewis Hamilton to smash the performance arc and deliver one of the great sporting moments of any British summer.

The combination of a responsive car and variable conditions created the conditions for a guerrilla raid. All Hamilton needed was opportunity. McLaren’s pit stop misread towards the end of the race offered it, opening a window through which Hamilton raced, throwing he baggage of a desperate two and a half years over the side en route to the chequered flag.

Hamilton spoke of his relief and of the dark days that preceded it. In their private moments, he and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff had spent many an hour processing failure, looking for ways not only to keep each other afloat, but to prevent the whole ship from going under. At times it felt like rounding Cape Horn.

In his post-race address Wolff shared a little about their friendship and how they leant on each other for support.

“Our relationship goes back a long time. Each of us suffered at various stages. He’s been there for me, and most recently I have tried to do my contribution when he was doubting at times.

“That’s why it’s really good to put all the negativity aside and come up with this performance. It is a weight of his shoulders.”

Among the first to post a round of applause was old foe and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. “Goat – Congrats Lewis,” he said.

After his media and sponsor commitments Hamilton took to the stage at Silverstone to commune with the people he really cares about, the tens of thousands of fans, some of whom made the trip to Silverstone for the first time to bear witness to his last British Grand Prix for Mercedes and who never gave up on him even when he despaired of ever winning again.

Beyond the love zone, Hamilton has struggled to connect. The lifestyle choices, edgy fashion displays, celebrity friendship groups et all, are viewed as expressions of distance and otherness, an attempt to separate himself from people like us. This is in part a consequence of the corporate blanket in which McLaren wrapped him in his early days in Formula One, which both stifled his real voice and prevented the audience from accessing the genuine kid he was.

When you boil him down, Hamilton could not be further removed from Monaco Man, preferring the simple pleasures of family and friends. When asked how he would celebrate his 104th career win, he said his preference was for a curry. It doesn’t get any more real than that.

Perhaps the suffering of the past three seasons will allow the doubters to see him for what he is and to recognise the genius that during the years of plenty we had come to take for granted. If this were to be his final grand prix victory, this would be the way to go, winning on merit against the best in class, not via the red carpet and confected finale to which Andy Murray has been and James Anderson is about to be subject.

The good news for Hamilton is the immediate future is pregnant with the promise of more wins this season.

“There was a moment when suddenly the data made sense,” Wolff explained.

“Mainly the way we balanced the car and how we could bring it into a better sweet spot. There is more to come in performance. We are bringing bits to Budapest and Spa.

“We had a win last week [George Russell in Austria] because of the tangling. But today we have an honest win. We were there.”

The engine and aerodynamic regulation changes scheduled for 2026 offer Hamilton the chance go again at Ferrari, where he moves next year. And were Ferrari to win the signature of star designer Adrian Newey, as many believe they will, the eighth world title that should have been his in 2021 might yet adorn his mantelpiece.

The prospect of Hamilton winning in red is not the trauma it once might have been for Wolff. In the decade they have been together, the pair have developed a profound mutual respect.

Wolff accepts the rules of engagement. Gratitude for the years they have had together, the successes they shared, trumps any feelings of loss or regret.

“We are adults,” Wolff said. “It is what it is.

“We take decisions. We go for it. That’s the most important [thing].

“We have to finish on a high and provide a car that enables them to win.”

Though the improvements are clear, Mercedes needed the weather to bring parity with McLaren and Red Bull at Silverstone. McLaren were the big losers, as they have been since Lando Norris tabled his inaugural victory in Miami. They might have won all four subsequent grands prix, a serious of poor decisions costing them.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 26: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and McLaren speaks with Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey during previews to the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on July 26, 2012 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Vladimir Rys/Getty Images)
Hamilton pictured talking to Adrian Newey in 2012 (Photo: Getty)

Red Bull is still in the vanguard but its difficulties over kerbs and at bumpier tracks has been exposed by McLaren’s rapid development. Hamilton was stunned at the ease with which Norris picked him off on lap 15 at Silverstone, the McLaren’s capacity to get heat in the tyres taking him clear of the field.

Max Verstappen was unable to make an impression until the final 13 laps when a fresh set of hard tyres made him the quickest car on the circuit. Had Norris bolted on the even quicker mediums that were available to him at his final stop instead of the softs to cover Hamilton’s choice, he would have been the one celebrating, and might yet be again at the Hungaroring.

Ferrari have gone backwards since Charles Leclerc’s victory at Monaco, but the car is still quick in qualifying trim and at the shortest track after Monaco up next in Budapest, a return to the front cannot be discounted. However a summer of lacklustre displays have added a degree of urgency to the pursuit of Newey.

The problem for all three suitors, Aston Martin, McLaren and Ferrari, is Newey has genuinely not decided which way is up, telling those closest to him he will take the summer to decide. While he and his wife have taken off in his beloved RV, former paddock grandee Eddie Jordan is charged with negotiating the best possible deal on his behalf.

While money is always a factor, so too is work/life balance. McLaren do not have the pockets of Aston or Ferrari, but their Woking HQ is closest to his Ascot home, and his longstanding design partner, Rob Marshall, is poised with the kettle on having joined from Red Bull in January this year. One lump or two, Adrian?

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